What is the IRS Form I-9? Definition and explanation


When you hire a new employee to work in the United States, you need to fill out a Form I-9. Here's what you should know about it.

Matt Redler
September 16, 2021

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

What is the IRS Form I-9?


Every time you hire a new employee to work in the United States, you are required to fill out a Form I-9. The form is an attestation that:

  1. The employee can legally work in the United States.
  2. You have reviewed the employee’s documents stating that they can legally work in the United States.

Both you and your new hire have a section to fill out on the Form I-9. Fortunately, the form is easy and fast. Below, you’ll learn how to fill one out.

Form I-9 Cheat Sheet: What you should know

  • You have to fill it out quickly. Your employee needs to fill out their section before they begin work, and you need to fill out your part within 3 business days of your employee’s first day. 
  • Independent contractors don’t need a Form I-9. You don’t have to worry about this for freelancers and contractors. But, remember that it’s still illegal to hire a contractor if you’re aware that they are not legally able to work in the United States.
  • You can’t ask for specific documents. There is a wide range of documents that prove somebody is eligible for work in the United States. Your employee gets to choose which one they show you. So, for example, you can’t ask for a driver’s license if they choose to show you a school ID card.

How to fill out a Form I-9

This is easy––there are just three steps. Ready?

  1. Have your employee fill out Section 1. They’ll fill out some personal information in addition to an attestation, under penalty of perjury, that they’re able to legally work in the United States.
  1. Fill out Section 2. As the employer, you’ll have to review your employee’s documentation and fill out the relevant fields in Section 2. Note that if your employee doesn’t provide a document from List A (shown on the form), they’ll need to show you a document from both List B and List C.
  1. Store the document somewhere secure. You’ll need to keep the Form I-9 for as long as your employee is working for you, and even for a short period after! Keep reading to find out how long you’ll need to hang onto the form.

How long you should keep a Form I-9 for

You’ll only get rid of a Form I-9 once you terminate an employee. But, you can’t get rid of it right away: The IRS has a formula for figuring out how long you should keep the form for.

  1. Write the date your employee began work for pay. Ex: 1/1/2021
  2. Add three years to that date. Ex: 1/1/2024
  3. Write the date the employee was terminated. Ex: 7/1/2023
  4. Add one year to that date. Ex: 7/1/2024

Pick whichever date is later and you’ll have the answer for how long to keep your Form I-9. In the example above, you’d keep the form until July 1st, 2024.

Other exceptions to Form I-9

Independent contractors are the main group of workers who don’t need a Form I-9. (And you can learn about the difference between contractors and employees here.) But there are a few other exceptions to know about––the groups below don’t require a Form I-9:

  • People not physically working in the United States.
  • People employed for casual domestic work in a private home on an intermittent, sporadic, or irregular basis.
  • People providing labor to you who are employed by a contractor providing contract services. The IRS provides employee leasing as an example here.
  • People hired on or before November 6, 1986 who are continuing in their employment and have a reasonable expectation of employment at all times. 
  • People hired in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands before November 27, 2009.

Why do we know this stuff?

Hi! It’s nice to meet you: We’re Panther. We have the answers about Form I-9s and a bunch of other (more interesting) stuff because we’re in the business of helping businesses hire all around the world. With Panther, you can hire globally in just a couple of clicks––no headaches with compliance and subsidiaries.

Learn more about Panther here.

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